One Year After an Empty Chair in Oslo

His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrives in Prague, Czech Republic and greets former Czech President Vaclav Havel during their meeting on December 10, 2011. Photo courtesy

It’s International Human Rights Day. One year ago today, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” He remains in a Chinese prison. Also on this day one year ago, we launched this blog to shed light on human rights abuses in Asia and in doing so, try to end them. In commemoration, we’ll take a look at what people around the globe are doing to show support for human rights and Liu Xiaobo one year later.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that “Human rights belong to every one of us without exception. But unless we know them, unless we demand they be respected, and unless we defend our right — and the right of others —  to exercise them, they will be just words in a decades-old document. That is why, on Human Rights Day, we do more than celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – we acknowledge its enduring relevance for our own times.”

Two of Liu’s nominators, former Czech President Václav Havel and Tibetan Spiritual Leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama will host the round table discussion Democracy and Human Rights in Asia: One Year After an Empty Chair in Oslo in Prague on Sunday. Mr. Havel was a playwright and dissident in Czechoslovakia whose involvement with the human rights manifesto Charter 77 led to his imprisonment and catapulted himself as the leader of the opposition. After the 1989 “Velvet Revolution“, he became the last president of Czechoslovakia and then the first president of the Czech Republic. Charter 77 inspired Liu Xiaobo to author Charter 08 in the same style, a manifesto which calls for reform including an independent legal system, freedom of association and the elimination of a one-party rule. It was published three years ago today and written to promote human rights and democratization in China.

Sunday’s talk, which will be held in English, will focus on the current state of democracy and human rights in Asia and held in commemoration of the first anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Other participants of the discussion will include Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Chinese dissident Jianli Yang, co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Stéphane Hessel and former French Minister of Foreign Affairs and Doctors Without Borders Founder Bernard Kouchner. You can watch a live broadcast here from 10:00 AM to 12:00 noon, Central European Time  (GMT+1:00). A video recording of the proceedings will be available shortly thereafter. Following the discussion, the Dalai Lama will be giving a public talk entitled “Searching for Happiness in a Troubled World”, from 13:30 – 15:30 Central European Time, which you can watch live here.

Forum 2000, Mr. Havel’s organization, calls “the human rights situation in parts of the region a cause for grave concern. The empty chair at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony remains a sad symbol of this.” Additionally, the full development of China or Burma’s huge potential will not be possible without liberating individual creativity, allowing free expression and free access to information, nor without ensuring full transparency and government accountability through functioning democracy and the rule of law.

Speaking at the opening of his Forum 2000 conference in October, Mr. Havel said that “I firmly believe that sooner or later, but preferably sooner, this year’s Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo will be released from prison.”

Another nominator of Liu, President of the literary and human rights organization PEN American Center Kwame Anthony Appiah, called on U.S. Congress and the international community  this week to continue to advocate for Liu’s  release and to “remind the Chinese authorities that we haven’t forgotten him.”

In a video statement, Mr. Appiah reiterated his support for his imprisoned colleague, saying “I have him in my mind every day. I think every day about the fact that this brave fighter for free expression is locked up in his own country.” He continued: “It’s very important that all of us here at PEN and all the friends of PEN work to remind the Chinese that we haven’t forgotten him and it’s their obligation in the name of international law and, indeed, in the name of the Chinese constitution, to release him, to allow him to go back to become one of the free voices of China.”

Protestors demand the release of Liu Xiaobo. Photo courtesy the International Committee to Support Liu Xiaobo.

Earlier in the week, PEN briefed Congress on the climate for freedom of expression since Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel a year ago, and the prospects for freedom of expression going forward. PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee Chair Marian Botsford Fraser testified that despite three successive crackdowns since Liu Xiaobo was first arrested on December 8, 2008, there is hope that China is changing from within. Dr. Liu was sentenced on December 25, 2009 to 11 years imprisonment for “power subversion.” He is currently detained at the Jinzhou prison in Liaoning province.

A campaign for another imprisoned activist, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who is being held incommunicado in his home despite being freed from prison, has led dozens of ordinary Chinese to risk their safety to see for themselves the measures taken to limit his contact with the outside world.

“This surge of activism, of citizens simply asking the question ‘why,’ of seeking and imparting information, regardless of frontiers, lends hope that China is changing, and that change has begun with the people and their exercise of their internationally-protected, inalienable right to freedom of expression,” Fraser said in her written testimony. “People are coming to realize, as [popular Chinese writer] Murong Xuecun said of Chen Guangcheng, that ‘at the moment his freedom was arbitrarily taken away, your freedom came under threat.’”

Also this week, New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced its membership in and launch of the International Committee to Support Liu Xiaobo. Consisting of intellectuals, artists, experts on China, and human rights activists—including five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates— the International Committee will inform, defend, and advocate for the release of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, both detained in China. HRF President Thor Halvorssen said that “The international community seems to have forgotten that a year after the award ceremony, Liu Xiaobo remains in prison in China and in harsh conditions. He is today the only Nobel Laureate in prison.”

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureates who joined the committee include Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Arch. Desmond Tutu agreed to join the efforts of this independent committee to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Liu Xiaobo. The Nobel Winners are also mindful of the fate of his family, including his wife Liu Xia who has been under house arrest for over a year in Beijing, without trial or administrative decision.

After an international wave of intimidation, the Beijing authorities are focusing their pressure on the family and friends of Liu Xiaobo in order to reduce them to silence. Unfortunately, the sentencing to 11 years in prison seems to be forgotten slowly but steadily outside China.

The International Support Committee, composed of intellectuals, artists, experts on China and human rights activists, is aiming to inform, to defend and advocate for the release of the first Chinese winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Its actions are addressed to governments, international organizations and the world’s public opinion. The Committee calls on all those committed to freedom of thought and opinion to join the Committee in its efforts to obtain the release of Liu Xiaobo. Signatories to The Committee Include:

  • Dr. Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Ms. Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Arch. Desmond Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Ms. Mairead Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Ms. Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Mr. Vaclav Havel, Author, former President of the Czech Republic
  • Jared Genser, International Law Counselor to Liu Xiaobo, Founder of Freedom Now
  • Jianli Yang, President, Initiatives for China
  • Souhayr Belhassen, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Pierre Tartakowsky, Human Rights League (LDH)
  • Jean-François Julliard, Reporters without Borders (RSF)
  • Pierre Bergé, Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation
  • Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM)
  • François Walter, Action of Christians Against Torture (ACAT)
  • Marie Holzman, Solidarity Chine
  • Marie–Françoise Lamberti, Act for Human Rights (ADH)
  • Jean-Paul Ribes, président du Comité de soutien au peuple tibétain (CSPT)
  • Vincent Metten, International Campaign for Tibet (ICT)
  • Thor Halvorssen, President, Human Rights Foundation, Founder of Oslo Freedom Forum
  • Jean-Luc Bennahmias, MP at the European Parliament
  • Jean-Philippe Béja, Research Director at CNRS, Translator of Liu Xiaobo
  • Alain Bouc, Human Rights League (LDH)
  • Dominique Guibert, Human Rights League (LDH)
  • Emmanouil Athanasiou, human rights lawyer

You are invited to join the Committee on Facebook and show your support.

One more thing that I learned today: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been awarded the Guinness World Record for having collected, translated and disseminated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into more than 380 languages and dialects: from Abkhaz to Zulu. The Universal Declaration is thus the most translated document – indeed, the most “universal” one in the world.

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3 Responses to One Year After an Empty Chair in Oslo

  1. Pingback: A Man With Heart: Václav Havel 1936 – 2011 » free for all blog

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  3. Pingback: Wife of Imprisoned Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo Appeals to Chinese Authorities For Basic Freedom - free for all blog

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